Since construction began on the new 45,000-seat football stadium on the campus of Baylor University, it has been the center of attention in Waco. People have watched the new stadium rise and take shape since dirt was first turned at the site in January 2013. Now the countdown is on to opening night. You won’t be disappointed. McLane Stadium will knock your socks off, football fans.
Brian Nicholson, Baylor’s vice president for operations and facilities, has given dozens of tours of the new stadium as construction progressed these past 18 months. It becomes apparent from the word go that his team, as well as the construction contractor, are quite proud of the facility they’re building.
Attention to detail is evident everywhere you look.
There’s literally not a bad seat in the house. Fan views of the playing surface are outstanding, even in the upper deck sections beneath the shade awning.
And what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in amenities. From concession areas to bathrooms to internet access, McLane Stadium is the template for stadiums of the future.
When it comes to seating capacity, McLane will rank at the bottom of the Big 12. Other than Texas (capacity 100,119) and Oklahoma (82,112), most Big 12 stadiums hold 50,000 to 60,000 fans. There has been a big rush to add seating capacity at many of the big-name programs in recent years and certainly McLane Stadium can be expanded by up to 10,000 seats. However, as television continues to permeate college football, we’re seeing more and more empty seats at the bigger venues. So why add more seats when more and more people are watching from home?
Baylor’s new stadium is the perfect size for a small market. The seating is spacious, easily accessible and will definitely give the Bears a noticeable home-field advantage. Not all stadiums can say that these days. It won’t be the biggest but it will be, by far, the best place to watch a football game in the Big 12.
Yes, locating the stadium next to the Brazos River does create some logistical challenges. But the designers and the folks at the university have turned those challenges into opportunities. And that’s where McLane really sets itself apart from the rest of the conference.
First, the approach to McLane Stadium is a glorious walk down a 35-foot wide sidewalk that starts on University Parks and ends at the main plaza outside the stadium. The walk across the pedestrian bridge is already breathtaking and the stadium isn’t even finished. Bear fans may have to walk a bit from their parking place to the stadium, but it will be worth it when they top the bridge and head down toward the plaza.
Along the walk fans will pass by the statue of former coach Grant Teaff as well as the student tailgating area. They’ll also get a very good view of the main tailgating section east of the stadium. Once in the plaza area outside the south end zone, they will be greeted by not only Robert Griffin III’s statue but a beautiful view of the stadium itself from the open end where the massive scoreboard is located.
It’s definitely a walk worth taking.
While the prospect of “sailgating” is a hot topic right now, university officials admit they really don’t know how many boats will be on the river on game day. There simply is no way to know, but they suspect water traffic will be huge and they’re right. It will take time to build up the infrastructure both at the stadium and along the Brazos in the coming years to support the demand for boat traffic on game day. But it’s a unique aspect that very few major sporting venues have, so look for water to be a new tradition at McLane.
From the west stands, there are brand new views of the Baylor campus and downtown Waco that are quite picturesque. (It’s a true north-south field, by the way.) The seating arrangements give the Baylor student body the lower level above the visitor’s sideline, and the Baylor Line folks get special treatment after their entry onto the field.
The press area, following the trend with most new stadiums, is no longer along the 50-yard line but rather in the northwest corner of the press box enclosure. AT&T Stadium, formerly known as Cowboys Stadium, was the first to move the working press into the corner.
The first game at the new stadium is 90 days from today. The Trib will publish a special section to introduce readers to the new stadium on Aug. 29. While the stadium is a masterpiece in the making, just the approach to this state-of-the-art arena promises to be an amazing experience in and of itself.
Given all this, walking to McLane on game day should quickly become a new and cherished town tradition.
Steve Boggs is editor of the Tribune-Herald. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.